Understanding the Difference Between Synchronous vs Asynchronous Learning
Traditional learning where students are in a classroom with their instructor and fellow students engaging with their education in real-time, is synchronous learning. Quite literally, this is because in a classroom setting, students learn in sync with their peers.
You could trace the dawn of synchronous learning to, well, the dawn of education, and still to this day it’s what many older adults think of when they think of school.
Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, is the newer and more flexible alternative to synchronous learning and what many students and teachers today think of when they think of school. With asynchronous learning, students learn at their own pace, in sync with their personal timelines, from basically wherever they can access the internet.
In-person learning tends to be synchronous but online learning can be synchronous as well. A live-stream lecture that students attend virtually is a common form of synchronous online learning, for instance. Instructors stream their classes and students participate in real-time via message boards, webcams, chats, and the like.
Online high schools like OES prefer asynchronous learning, however, because of its many benefits. Asynchronous learning, unlike synchronous learning (in-person and online), promotes flexibility and self-paced learning. With this approach, students have more control over their schedules, can manage their time in the way that best suits them, and maintain work-life balance.
Not only that, but asynchronous learning at OES caters to the different types of learners and facilitates lifelong learning for mature students and busy students who can’t afford to treat secondary school as a full-time job without compromising their other responsibilities and duties at home and in their personal lives.
When weighing synchronous vs asynchronous learning to determine which option works best for you, you’ll need to examine the pros and cons of each.
A Short History of Asynchronous Online Learning
Before looking at the pros and cons of asynchronous vs synchronous learning, it helps to understand the recent history of asynchronous learning. Though relatively new, asynchronous learning is already a norm among students and teachers today.
New and newish technologies like social media groups and cloud-based collaborative documents are what make online asynchronous learning simple for teachers and students in the 21st century. But it’s the COVID-19 pandemic that has expedited the development of these technologies and made asynchronous learning so popular at nearly all levels of education, from elementary to graduate school.
While offices turned to remote work during the pandemic, traditional schools switched to fully online or hybrid models. Students who once had to travel to and from school to attend classes and take exams in classrooms full of other students could now do all their schooling on their home at home.
With this shift, it became clear that many students neither needed to learn in sync nor in person with each other to excel in their classes. They could excel at their schooling when they took asynchronous Ontario online high school courses from the comfort of their own home.
Asynchronous learning, sometimes referred to as location-independent schooling, suddenly became a new pedagogical norm, and online high schools like OES proved to be ahead of the curve.
The Pros and Cons of Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning
There are pros and cons of synchronous and asynchronous learning and what works best for one student might not work best for another. It depends on the student and context. That said, here’s a look at the general pros and cons of both learning methods.
Pros of Synchronous Learning
Synchronous learning is simultaneous learning; students participate together in class, take tests and hand in assignments at the same time as other students. In-person classes tend to be synchronous, but online classes can be synchronous as well.
In online synchronous classes, students participate as they do in traditional in-person classes, the main difference being that these classes are offered online. Instead of lecturing in front of a blackboard, instructors lecture through their computers.
The pros of synchronous learning in traditional in-person classes, as well as online classes, include:
1. Interaction with peers
2. Real-time feedback from instructors
3. Rigid routine
Pro #1: Interaction with Peers
The synchronous classroom, even the online synchronous classroom, is a social environment, where everyone participates in real-time. Students who socialize with teachers and fellow students in real-time may grow more at ease in social situations and benefit emotionally. They may also learn particular social skills that will serve them well going forward, not only at school but also in the workforce and their personal lives. These social skills include understanding how to:
- Be part of a team
- Respect and interact with authority
- Recognize, set, and navigate social boundaries
- Handle interpersonal conflict
- Make acquaintances and friends
Of course, students can learn these social skills through online asynchronous learning as well, but for some students, doing so in person is more intuitive.
Pro #2: Real-Time Feedback from Instructors
Real-time feedback from in-person and online instructors may help students feel that the work they do in school is concrete, not abstract, and has real-world implications. It may also help students feel that their instructors care about their personal development.
When students receive real-time feedback from online and in-person instructors, they may feel compelled to impress their instructor and seek their approval, which may, in turn, compel them to work harder at their schoolwork.
That said, students who take asynchronous online courses may also receive real-time feedback by communicating with their instructors and fellow students through video conferencing and chat message groups. With asynchronous learning, real-time teacher-student and student-student interactions are not absent, they’re just different.
Pro #3: Rigid Routine
Students who struggle to set their own schedules may benefit from the rigid routine that synchronous learning imposes. These imposed routines may help students:
- Create productive habits
- Set reasonable expectations
- Manage their workload
- Maintain work-life balance
Cons of Synchronous Learning
For every pro of synchronous learning, there’s a con—and interestingly, for some students, the general pros of synchronous learning may actually be cons. A rigid routine, for instance, may benefit some students but not others.
Con #1: Rigid Routine
Students who don’t struggle to build independent routines may find the rigid routine that synchronous learning imposes on them frustrating, especially when these routines don’t mess with the ways they prefer to do their schoolwork. Students who are morning people and prefer to do their assignments before noon, for instance, aren’t able to do that when they take synchronous classes at traditional high schools that start classes at 9 in the morning. For these students, imposed rigid routines aren’t productive, they’re constrictive.
For other students, imposed rigid routines may prevent them from developing time management skills on their own.
The rigid routine that synchronous learning imposes on students doesn’t work well for many mature and busy students as well. This is because it makes it difficult for these students to fit school into their busy schedules without compromising their responsibilities at work and in their personal lives.
For instance, when a synchronous class ends at 3 pm and a student is expected to start work at 2:50 pm, they are forced to choose whether to leave class early or start work late. Either way, they’ll have to compromise. These students are better off having more control over their schedules.
That kind of control is exactly what asynchronous learning would provide them.
Con #2: Inflexibility
Similarly, synchronous learning is less flexible than asynchronous learning, and its lack of flexibility may prevent students from juggling their responsibilities and maintaining work-life balance—meaning a healthy balance between work, life, school, and everything in between.
Pros of Asynchronous Learning
Asynchronous online learning benefits many students more than synchronous learning (online or in-person). It depends on the student and context and, as with synchronous learning, what the majority of students consider a pro a minority of students might consider a con.
Generally speaking, however, there are at least 2 pros to online learning, especially when students cultivate effective online study habits and leverage online learning tools.
1. Self-paced learning
2. Work-life balance
Pro #1: Self-Paced Learning
One of the advantages of taking a high school course online at OES is that we promote self-paced asynchronous learning.
With asynchronous self-paced learning, students learn at their own pace and schedule, but this doesn’t mean students can take as long as they’d like to do their schoolwork. At OES, students still must meet certain deadlines. Students move through course units at their own speed, engage with lectures when it’s most convenient, and take tests and exams when it works best for them.
Self-paced learning also obviously benefits busy and mature students who need to fit their education into their busy schedules without sacrificing work-life balance. If you’re a mature student intent on upgrading your high school courses, self-paced learning might be the ideal option for you.
Self-paced learning may also benefit students by helping them develop independent time-management skills. When students are in control of their own schedule, they’re pressured to manage their time on their own, and this may help them learn how to manage their time without having institutions and other people do it for them.
Developing independent time-management skills will benefit students at the secondary level and possibly even more so at the post-secondary level, where professors don’t look over their students’ shoulders to make sure they’re productively managing their time.
Pro #2: Work-Life Balance
Maintaining work-life balance isn’t easy for busy and mature students. Neither is it easy for students who want to excel in their classes by putting in a lot of work.
Although it is important that students learn how to handle busy schedules without becoming overwhelmed by stress—a necessary skill these days—it is also important that students not take on too much work and thereby risk compromising their physical and mental wellbeing while increasing their chances of burning out.
Working efficiently is not the same as working constantly. Too much studying can harm a student’s performance and health. Stanford research shows that students in high-achieving communities who study too much experience a lack of balance, increased stress and health problems, and alienation from society. Studying too much also means less time with friends and family, which is necessary for a well-rounded good life.
When students use self-paced learning to achieve a healthy study schedule, they benefit not only academically but also socially, mentally, and physically.
Cons of Asynchronous Learning
Again, whether something is a pro or a con depends on the student and context but, generally speaking, possible cons to asynchronous learning are:
Con #1 Distractions
It can be difficult for students taking self-paced online courses in Ontario to avoid getting distracted when they don’t have a teacher looking over their shoulder all the time. What’s stopping students from going down an internet wormhole, playing games on their phones, or going outside?
The ubiquity of distractions when working online from home is a well-known problem. Students face it, and so do employees. Fortunately, however, there are ways students can create a productive learning space at home that enables them to tune out distractions. Students can, for instance:
- Find their perfect level of quiet
- Set up a space in their home that they dedicate exclusively to their schooling
- Dress the part
- Put aside distracting things such as phones, video game consoles, TVs, and non-school related readings
- Block social media websites for a designated amount of time
Con #2 Inconsistency
When a student is not required to show up to class at the same time every day or week, they may find it tough to engage consistently with the course. That’s why it’s so important that students taking online asynchronous secondary courses learn independent time management skills.
The Bottom Line
Who wins in the battle of synchronous vs asynchronous learning? Well, that’s a misleading question given that, for many students, a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning is the ideal way to go.
When, for instance, students take some synchronous courses at their traditional brick-and-mortar high school and some asynchronous online courses at OES, they can experience the pros of each option without experiencing the cons.
If you’re considering taking this sort of hybrid approach to your education, take a look at our courses. All count toward achieving your Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD), and all offer the sort of flexibility you might not be able to get elsewhere.
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